Your pooch is lying next to you on his favorite spot of grass. He’s looking up at you with those soulful eyes as he takes a bite out of that green blade. You pet him lovingly and say “good boy” before giving him another chew. Suddenly, you hear a loud slurp coming from inside his mouth. You look closely and see wet fur sticking out and all you can think is: What is that disgusting thing?!
You’ve just witnessed your furry friend having a grass-induced fit. If this sounds familiar, chances are you’re dealing with one of two issues: allergies or digestion problems. There are some subtle differences between these conditions, but both result in your pup chewing on things other than food when they get stressed. We’ll explain what causes each problem so you know how to help your best friend.
What Causes Grass Allergy in Dogs?
Allergies are immune responses to external substances (like pollen) causing inflammation and swelling in various parts of our bodies. In people, allergic reactions typically manifest themselves in the form of hives. Some pets suffer similar reactions called hypersensitivities, which can also cause diarrhea, vomiting, coughing, sneezing, wheezing, itching and difficulty breathing.
These reactions occur within minutes of eating something their sensitive stomachs find unpleasant. Hypersensitivity reactions happen because allergens are foreign particles to the body. When we ingest them, they’re broken down into smaller pieces and absorbed through the small intestine.
Once there, they encounter specialized white blood cells known as mast cells. Mast cells contain chemicals that trigger the release of histamine, which is responsible for many allergic reactions. Histamines dilate smooth muscle tissue throughout the body, including air passages such as the lungs and throat. This results in congestion, narrowing of nasal passageways, runny nose, watery eyes, sneezing and coughing.
Food allergies are relatively common in dogs, cats and humans alike. The most common culprits include milk, egg whites, wheat, soybeans, corn, sugar, yeast, eggs, fish and shellfish. However, there are lots more potential allergens out there than that. A German shepherd puppy has even been found to be allergic to fire hydrants.
In people, allergies often resolve themselves without treatment after a few years. For some pets, however, the condition becomes chronic. Most commonly, animals who don’t respond well to traditional methods of immunotherapy are diagnosed with food allergies.
Immunotherapies work by gradually exposing your pet to its suspected food until symptoms subside. They can also use medications like steroids to reduce inflammation and improve lung function. Unfortunately, steroid treatments aren’t advised for long-term use since they can cause obesity and other health problems.
How Does Grass Cause Digestive Problems in Dogs?
Grass is a great source of nutrition for your dog. The cellulose fiber provides energy, while the chlorophyll gives it color. But sometimes, your pup gets carried away and takes in too much grass. Afterward, he may experience any of several gastrointestinal disorders.
Digestive issues caused by grass ingestion range from mild discomfort to severe life-threatening ones. One of the most common is bloating, which manifests itself as distention, gas pains and flatulence. Another is enteritis, a painful infection of the intestines. Both of these occur quickly following grass consumption. Other possible complications include hemorrhage and ulceration, which can lead to internal bleeding. Intestinal perforations can even cause fatal intestinal blockages.
The exact reason why grass causes digestive problems isn’t fully understood. According to veterinary specialists, large amounts of roughage can irritate the intestinal lining and increase intestinal permeability, allowing larger molecules of bacteria and viruses to slip through.
This causes bacterial overgrowth, which can destroy healthy gut flora. Bacterial overgrowth can also create toxins that attack the intestinal walls and mucous membranes. In some cases, the toxic waste produced by the bacteria attacks the walls of the small intestine, leading to damage and eventual scarring.
It’s important to note that grass doesn’t always trigger digestive problems in dogs. While some breeds are genetically predisposed to bloat, others are not. And although some dogs naturally produce methane, this happens due to diet rather than genetics. That said, if your dog does seem to have a grass intolerance, you should consult a veterinarian right away. So now you know how grass affects your best friend’s digestive system. Next, we’ll discuss whether the grass can actually harm your animal.
Can Grass Be Dangerous to Your Pet?
As far as dangers go, grass probably won’t kill your cat or dog. Sure, it can make them uncomfortable and sick, but it rarely leads to death. Still, if your pet appears to be in pain or distress after consuming grass, seek medical attention immediately.
Grasses vary greatly in size, shape and texture.
Therefore, depending upon what type of grass your pet eats, the risk of choking varies widely. As a general rule, coarse, dry grass poses less danger than moist, soft grasses. Also, grasses with seed heads pose greater risks than stemless varieties, since seeds are harder to digest.
If your pet starts to choke on grass, perform the Heimlich maneuver. Grasp your pet firmly around the middle and gently pull upward. If that fails, try placing your pet’s head under your elbow and pulling downward toward yourself. Never force anything further down your pet’s gullet. Call your vet right away if you suspect your pet is suffering from a serious obstruction.
While grass is generally safe for pets, it can do some damage to their teeth and gums. To avoid this, keep your dog’s grass intake low during times when it’s likely to grow. During warmer months, limit grazing time to late afternoon hours. Don’t allow your pet to eat grass alone. Instead, supervise your pet while it gnaws away. Finally, consider investing in a dental treat made specifically for dogs that will satisfy their urge to munch on grass.
Dog owners should beware of backyard ponds full of bluegills and crawdads. Not only are these critters tasty treats for hungry pups, but their larvae are also tasty snacks for mosquitoes.